I call it “the gauntlet.” Every time I set out to do something athletic, there’s a voice inside me that pipes up, insistently telling me to quit. It’s gotten smarter over the years. This voice that says QUIT has tried science, philosophy, common sense, attention to minor physical twinges, and every manner of rhetorical technique to get me to turn around, go home, and get back in bed. The voice that says QUIT lasts at least ten minutes, sometimes closer to twenty.
Beating this voice is a good enough reason to keep going, all by itself, because I can count on this voice to try to ruin every interesting thing I ever set out to do.
The voice that says QUIT was after me when I started running, when I only set out to do a half-mile because that was all I had. The same voice was still coming for me the day I ran my first marathon.
The voice that says QUIT was after me on our first serious backpacking trip. This voice asked for a helicopter evacuation. Fortunately my frugality voice was also in attendance, and this voice carries a strong veto.
The voice that says QUIT seems to have a speaker installed in my martial arts bag. I hear from it on my way to class all the time. Oh, no, not today. You can skip class today, it’s okay. Nobody wants you there anyway.
These are the sorts of things the voice says when it wants me to quit:
You’ll hurt yourself
You didn’t hydrate enough
You deserve a rest day
You should eat another snack and try again in an hour
It doesn’t matter
You’ve done so much already, treat yourself!
Eh, you’ll be better next year, so today is just a drop in the bucket
Isn’t that a pain in your knee?
You’re going to get a headache
You’re just going to have to pee in a few minutes, might as well wait
What are you thinking? You’re too old for this anyway.
The voice that says QUIT was definitely up to its old tricks in the mat room during my Muay Thai belt promotion. We were only about 45 minutes in to what promised to be 3-4 hours of physical and psychological stress. I had a gauntlet moment. Imagine this:
It’s a hot, humid afternoon in mid-July. There are fifty people crammed into a room that’s about 20 by 30 feet. You’ve just spent half an hour doing 150 pushups, 50 squats, and a bunch of mountain climbers. There is grit, floor dirt, and anonymous hair stuck to your skin. Now you’re trying to execute a series of roundhouse kicks while your feet are slipping in a pool of someone else’s sweat that is nearly two feet across. Other people keep accidentally kicking and stepping on you.
An instructor comes over and corrects your form in such a way that you wonder, what on earth have I been doing for the last six months that nobody ever noticed this before?
You’re supposed to throw fifty punches, but because the instructor came over, you’ve started late. Every single other person in the room is already done. They start clapping and calling your name in what is meant to be encouragement - you’ve done it yourself for others - but which comes across as burning humiliation. I’m not slow! I’m not!
This is when the voice pipes up. Hey, it says. I noticed you aren’t enjoying yourself right now. Remember how you’ve only trained about one week out of the past month? Your stomach is bothering you, I can tell. You, you’re really just not up to this. Aww, poor dear. Why don’t you just tap out? You could just pack it in and try again in two months. Let them keep the $50. It’s not a big deal. Think how much easier it would be if you just quit now and train more for a few weeks? Don’t embarrass yourself. It’s fine. You can
I pulled myself together. Everything the voice says when it wants me to QUIT is technically true. Every time. It’s simply the voice of anxiety and it keeps careful records. It sometimes gets reinforcement from external sources, other people who heed that voice and who have the uncanny ability to echo its message.
Sometimes I appease the voice. I tell it that if I still feel this way an hour from now, maybe I’ll quit then.
It’s funny how this voice that says QUIT has never spoken up when I felt trapped in a dead-end job. This voice has never once told me to QUIT eating junk food. It’s never told me to QUIT when I was dating someone who mistreated me or broke my heart. It doesn’t tell me to QUIT when I’m staying up too late or procrastinating. On the contrary. It seems like I have a very persuasive inner signal to KEEP GOING whenever it’s something bad for me or something that will lead to even near-term problems.
I ignored the voice. I kept going. Moments later, it was time to trade places, and all I had to do was hold the pads for my partner. Then I had a long break while the people doing higher belt levels sparred with the instructors. Then my husband showed up - I told him to go ahead and skip the boring first half. That stupid voice that stupidly says to QUIT could have cost me this opportunity, all because of a few stressful minutes out of three hours.
I got that orange belt. It’s not about the belt, not really. The belt is just the key to advanced classes. Doing this ceremonial workout enabled me to get my schedule back on track, after a month where I was only eligible for classes on two specific weekdays. Quitting would have led to some serious annoyances and extended that weird month to three. I would have missed two months’ worth of opportunities to train in the advanced classes, hindering my physical conditioning and certainly not making it any easier “next time.”
The voice that says QUIT is persistent and persuasive. It says stuff like, “NOPE, nope nope nope. This isn’t for me. This just isn’t how I roll. I don’t need this. Screw this. I’m outta here. No, really, I mean it this time.” The way I ignore it is by reminding myself that I’ve made an informed, conscious choice based on my personal values. I’ve set goals along a timeline, and I’ve planned ahead to make sure I’ll be prepared. In most cases, I’ve already survived near-identical physical tests, and I can trust that I truly am ready. Since the voice that says QUIT never quits, I never do either.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.